A Birthday Fragment for Dmitri Shostakovich

I once commented to a friend that in Shostakovich’s music, you can hear shadows.

Hear shadows and hear the shadows, I should say.

Not the conventional shadows of light obstructed, but the shadows of light’s total absence.

The shadows at the back of a dark auditorium, the shadows at the edges of our vision. The consuming shadows. The shadows in the corners that mean mystery still exists.

I always get this sensation in his slow movements, all so masterfully wound up that time stands still.

No better example exists than the Largo of the Eighth Symphony, a passacaglia of dread.

These qualities are redolent in Haitink’s performances and recordings of the symphonies, elements which make his Bruckner and Mahler equally insightful. The lights are not shined into every nook and cranny. We are given a sense of mystery in the music, mystery that does not tip over into vainglorious metaphysics.


I can only describe it in words as the sense of mystery we have as children, when the world seems to expand in every direction, that nothing is small or constricting, that the shadows go on forever.

Author: Ryan M. Prendergast

Ph.D. Candidate @ the University of Illinois. Theater, opera, music, media, art, history, detritus. I smile, of course, and go on drinking tea.

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